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Northwest Arkansas, River Valley cleans up after storm

by Mike Jones, Thomas Saccente, Tom Sissom | April 30, 2021 at 7:30 a.m.
The stage of the Riverfront Amphitheater next to the Arkansas River in Fort Smith is surrounded by water after heavy rainfall Thursday. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)

Floodwater washed out a new area of the Lake Bella Vista dam in Bentonville on Wednesday while a lawsuit over its fate sits before the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

A news release from the city said the structure "suffered an additional failure" about 50 feet in width, west of the east spillway.

The dam was first damaged during flooding in 2008 and has had additional flood damage since. The west flood gates were removed because of previous damage to avoid impounding a large amount of water, the release said.

The damage in the last couple of days is from flooding and the overall condition of the remaining structure of the original dam, the release stated.

Heavy rainfall Wednesday also damaged a number of roads and bridges in Benton and Washington counties, according to local officials. Road crews in both counties spent Thursday clearing debris and assessing damage.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofjY-346Y4I]

Weather Service staff were in Benton County on Thursday to investigate a possible tornado. The Weather Service reported a tornado was spotted 3 miles south of Garfield about 8 a.m. Wednesday. There was some sort of damage reported, but whether it came from straight-line wind or a tornado had not been confirmed, said Pete Snyder, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Okla.

Rogers received 7.17 inches of rain from 7 a.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday, Snyder said. Springdale took in 4.45 inches of rain and two recording areas in Fayetteville showed 2.86 and 2.81 inches. Centerton received 3.30 inches and Pea Ridge was at 3.04 inches of rain, according to the Weather Service.

"It's April," Snyder said. "There was plenty of rainfall."

Dam woes

A full evaluation of the damage won't be completed until the floodwater has subsided. The city has contacted appropriate agencies about the failure at the dam site and how to respond, the release stated.

Lake Bella Vista Park is closed, according to the city. David Wright, city parks and recreation director, said he had no comment beyond what was in the release.

Cooper Realty Investments conveyed the property containing the dam Feb. 10, 2000, to the Bentonville/Bella Vista Trailblazers Association by limited warranty deed. The Trailblazers conveyed the property to Bentonville on Nov. 1, 2006, by special warranty deed, according to court documents. The city included Lake Bella Vista in its park system.

The lake is formed by a man-made dam on Little Sugar Creek. Flooding in 2008 damaged the dam. The city planned to rebuild an improved dam, according to the lawsuit.

Bentonville filed a lawsuit against Cooper Realty and the Trailblazers. The lawsuit asked a judge to decide what rights the city had in regard to the property and whether any agreements limit the city in rebuilding or removing the dam.

Some residents and naturalist groups asked the city to remove the dam and restore Little Sugar Creek to a free-flowing stream. Residents called the dam an eyesore, a hazard and a liability to the city.

Cooper Realty wants the city to rebuild the dam and maintain the lake, according to the lawsuit. Cooper claimed the conveyance of the property to the Trailblazers and later to the city was conditioned on the dam being maintained and, if necessary, building a new dam to maintain Lake Bella Vista.

Benton County Circuit Judge John Scott ruled in August the decision rests with the city whether to repair, replace or remove the dam. The case has since been appealed to the state Appeals Court.

Councilwoman Aubrey Patterson said she would like to see a free-flowing stream.

"A large majority of residents I have spoken with are in favor of restoring Little Sugar Creek. I support moving forward with the removal of the remaining portion of the dam as soon as possible," she said.

Cleanup begins

The Benton County Road Department spent Thursday in cleanup mode after rain hammered the area Wednesday.

Crews worked to get closed roads into passable shape before the weekend, said Jay Frasier of the Road Department.

Debris covered many roads, Frasier said. Workers cleaned a mix of rocks, accumulated dirt, tree limbs and, in some cases, downed trees, he said.

The approaches to some bridges on dirt roads were washed away and will need to be replaced, he said. A cost estimate hasn't been established, he said.

Five county roads were listed as impassable as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, according to information provided by Channing Barker, county communications director.

Damage from the rain came as the Road Department was still filling potholes caused by the extreme cold weather in February.

Water rescues

Robert McGowen, Benton County administrator of public safety, said he didn't have any reports of injuries from the storm.

Fayetteville first-responders had a pair of water rescue calls overnight Wednesday into Thursday, but no injuries were reported.

A vehicle was caught by floodwater at a low water crossing around 12:05 a.m. in an area north of the 2700 block of West Wedington Drive, according to information from the Police and Fire departments and Central Emergency Medical Services.

In the second incident, a vehicle was caught in floodwater in the 1000 block of South Dead Horse Mountain Road around 6 a.m. Thursday.

Springdale Fire Chief Mike Irwin said his department had six water rescue calls Wednesday morning, but none overnight and into Thursday morning.

In Washington County, there were numerous reports of roads closed due to flooding or debris, but no injuries.

Rogers engineering staff were busy Thursday inspecting transportation and stormwater infrastructure for any damage.

"As the water subsides, we'll have a better idea of how our assets fared," said Shanda Hunter, city public relations manager.

Snyder said the next chance of rain is after midnight Saturday and into Sunday morning. Sunday's forecast calls for showers and possibly a thunderstorm with a high near 73. The chance of precipitation is 80%, according to the Weather Service.

River Valley woes

Brad Thomas, director of the Crawford County Department of Emergency Management, said County Judge Dennis Gilstrap declared a state of emergency Thursday because of heavy rainfall in the River Valley over the past couple of days.

"We've got significant damage," Thomas said, adding the damage severity would become clearer once water recedes from the roads.

Every low-water crossing in Crawford County was underwater Thursday, according to Thomas. IDrive Arkansas reported a bridge on Arkansas 282 southwest of Mountainburg was closed due to high water, with flooding affecting part of Arkansas 162 between Alma and Kibler for a time as well.

Gilstrap didn't respond to a message requesting comment Thursday.

A "handful" of homes in the county reportedly were surrounded by water while a couple of other homes were flooded, Thomas said. In Alma, the Fire Department went out at 1:30 a.m. Thursday to rescue four people from an apartment complex that had water in it, Thomas said. The Crawford County Sheriff's Office also did a swift water rescue that morning to get a man trapped in a motor home at Clear Creek Park east of Kibler.

Thomas estimated, from Wednesday to about 1:15 p.m. Thursday, parts of Crawford County received anywhere from 3.25 inches to 6 or more inches of rain. The northern part of the county got more rain than the south.

The Arkansas River at Van Buren was forecast to crest at 27.5 feet Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service in Tulsa. The flood stage for the river is 22 feet.

Thomas said this crest will mean floodwater would affect the Field of Dreams Sports Complex in Van Buren and surround homes in some areas in the floodplain off the Arkansas River.

"It's going to be a nuisance, it's going to be an inconvenience," Thomas said.

Two sections of highway in Sebastian County were also closed due to flooding as of Thursday afternoon, according to IDrive Arkansas. These included a section of Arkansas 255 between Central City and Lavaca, and a part of Arkansas 252 in the area of the Beverly township.

Kendall Beam, Sebastian County emergency management director, said the areas are the first in the county to flood when the Arkansas River reaches 25 feet or higher. However, he said the rainfall didn't hit Sebastian County as hard as it did Crawford County.

A car sits abandoned Thursday in deep water along Dead Horse Mountain Road in Fayetteville. Heavy rain over Wednesday and Thursday have swollen the White River outside of its banks, causing the road to flood.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
A car sits abandoned Thursday in deep water along Dead Horse Mountain Road in Fayetteville. Heavy rain over Wednesday and Thursday have swollen the White River outside of its banks, causing the road to flood. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
A section of the dam that creates Lake Bella Vista is seen washed away from Wednesday's storms. The break is in a section of the dam between to concrete overflow. The main dam gate and over flows became blocked by debris created during the storm. 
Check out nwaonline.com/210430Daily/ for today’s photo gallery.
 (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
A section of the dam that creates Lake Bella Vista is seen washed away from Wednesday's storms. The break is in a section of the dam between to concrete overflow. The main dam gate and over flows became blocked by debris created during the storm. Check out nwaonline.com/210430Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
A section of the dam that creates Lake Bella Vista is seen washed away from Wednesday's storms. The break is in a section of the dam between to concrete overflow. The main dam gate and over flows became blocked by debris created during the storm. 
Check out nwaonline.com/210430Daily/ for todayÕs photo gallery.
 (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
A section of the dam that creates Lake Bella Vista is seen washed away from Wednesday's storms. The break is in a section of the dam between to concrete overflow. The main dam gate and over flows became blocked by debris created during the storm. Check out nwaonline.com/210430Daily/ for todayÕs photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
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Dam breach

To see a video of the breach in the dam, visit nwaonline.com/430bvdam/ .

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